Top MLB Prospects for 2017: The Hitters (Part 1 of 2)

Over the next two weeks I’m going to be reviewing 12 rookie hitters and 12 rookie pitchers that could make signifiant waves at the Major League level — and aid your fantasy squad, as a result — in 2017. Today, we’re taking a look at six freshmen hitters with another six to come later in the week.

Potential Impact Rookie Hitters for 2017:

Willy Adames, SS, Rays: The Rays have some middle infield depth with the likes of Matt Duffy, Brad Miller and Nick Franklin in house but the emergence of Adames could help the cost-conscious Rays move on from Brad Miller, who is set to make more than $3 million in 2017 and is said to be tired of moving around the diamond. Adames, 21, had a breakout 2016 season despite being aggressively pushed from high-A (where he produced modest numbers in ’15) to double-A. He strikes out a fair bit but the young shortstop produced a .372 on-base percentage thanks to 74 free passes in 132 games and he began to tap into his raw power on a more consistent basis. Adames has 20+ home run potential and could also add double-digit steal totals. He’ll likely open the year in triple-A but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him in The Show as early as June.

Jake Bauers, 1B/LF, Rays: Another Rays prospect, Bauers is an underrated hitter because he doesn’t flash big-time power from positions that traditionally demand over-the-fence pop. However, the game is changing and the Rays organization is one that isn’t afraid to try unconventional approaches. Bauers, 21, spent 2016 at double-A along with Willy Adames. He was an on-base machine who produced a .370 rate and didn’t strike out much more than he walked (73-89 BB-K rate). Although he’s more of an on-base guy than a true slugger, he does have some pop and could produce 30+ doubles and 15+ home runs in his prime (more if the homers continue to fly out of MLB parks like they did in 2016). The left-handed hitter performed much better against right-handed pitching but he was hardly hopeless against southpaws (.819 vs .684 OPS). The club signed Colby Rasmus and Logan Morrison to plug the holes in left field and at first base but neither should be a major roadblock to Bauers if he can get off to a hot start at the triple-A level in 2017.

Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates: Bell is one of the safer bets amongst rookies in 2017 in terms of playing time. He’s been all but given the starting first base gig in Pittsburgh – although veteran John Jaso is on hand in case things go sideways early in the year. The rookie played 114 games at the triple-A level in 2016 and produced an .850 OPS. He also flashed the ability to hit for average and showed the ability to hit the ball over the fence. The performance at the upper levels of the minors earned Bell a 45-game demo at the big league level and he more than held his own while showing more power and walking more than he struck out (21-19 BB-K rate). In his prime, the freshman first baseman should hit in the .280-.300 range with 15-20 home runs and an on-base percentage in the .370-.390 range. He might be the early favorite for Rookie of the Year in the National League.

Cody Bellinger, 1B/OF, Dodgers: Bellinger gets a lot of attention as a prospect playing for a large market team — and one with rabidly knowledgeable fans at that. But the hype is justified. He has a chance to be a threat on both sides of the ball and could slot in defensively at either first base or a corner outfield spot. Despite his immense talent, though, Bellinger will face the tough task of breaking into a veteran-ladened lineup that is also quite deep from a depth perspective (although few players can match his upside). He should hit for significant power (20+ homers) after adjusting his approach over the past two seasons, and he’s shown the willingness to take more than his fair share of walks; he posted a 12.7% walk rate at double-A last year. With Adrian Gonzalez owed more than $40 million over the next two years, Bellinger will very likely break into the show in the outfield (unless an injury occurs to the veteran first baseman). He’s ticketed to open the year in triple-A but a strong showing in the first couple of months could put significant pressure on the likes of Andrew Toles, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke and non-roster spring invitee Franklin Gutierrez.

Andrew Benintendi, OF, Red Sox: Boston opens 2017 looking absolutely stacked as the team to beat in not only the AL East but the entire American League. And Benintendi looks like the early favorite for AL Rookie of the Year for a team that already boasts young, homegrown stars such as Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. Benitendi already has 34 games of big league experience under his belt and looked right at home in The Show by producing an .835 OPS. He can do a little bit of everything: hit for average (The lowest he’s ever batted as a pro is .290)… produce power… has a great eye at the plate… and he could be a better-than-average fielder. If Benintendi can find a way to eventually work his way into the top of the (potent) batting order then he could really throw up some strong secondary numbers. With the roadblocks to playing time being Chris Young and Brock Holt, don’t worry if the rookie has a modest spring – the job should be his no matter what.

J.P. Crawford, SS, Phillies: There’s not a lot of excitement surrounding the rebuilding Phillies in 2017 but the club could field some impressive young talent nonetheless. The club will likely open the year with Freddy Galvis and Andres Blanco holding down the fort at shortstop but Crawford should assume the position by the end of the summer — if not sooner. He’s a potentially plus-plus defender at shortstop and he shows flashes of potential at the plate – although there are definitely some questions around how well he’ll hit for average after struggling at double-A and triple-A. On the plus side, though, he offsets the batting average woes with a strong eye at the plate and he’s a threat to walk more than he strikes out; he’s walked at least 11% of the time in each of his minor league stops and he has some speed on the base paths to make pitchers regret the free pass. Crawford, 22, has some gap pop but he’s not likely to be much of a power threat. Because his greatest strength is his defence, he’s a better real-life ball player than fantasy asset.

We hoped you liked reading Top MLB Prospects for 2017: The Hitters (Part 1 of 2) by Marc Hulet!

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Mattabattacola
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Member
Mattabattacola

I noticed all these guys have pretty good approaches. Healthy walk rates,good OBP. Do you find this skill more predictable than other skills for prospects?

KCunningham
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KCunningham

I think it is, to an extent. It’s easy to sit back and take pitches when the pitching talent is lower. I tend to look at a healthy/solid walk rate and a low K rate with good doubles/HR rates. Those guys tend to understand the strike zone and make good contact when they swing at a pitch. That skill is transferable to all levels.

When a guy is based in three true outcomes at the lower level (re: When a guy’s BB+K rates are about 40%+ of his ABs), it makes me wince a bit.